Florida Stories: A Walking Tour of Fernandina Beach

    Tom Scherberger

    Want to explore the cultural, historical, and architectural treasures of Fernandina Beach, Fla.? There’s an app for that.

    Just go to Florida Stories Walking Tours, and download the app created by the Florida Humanities Council.

    With this app you can learn, at your own pace and on your own schedule, what some of Florida’s most unique towns and cities have to offer.

    Here’s an overview of what you can experience via the Fernandina Beach app:

    Where: Fernandina Beach
    Number of stops: 10
    Total time: 90 minutes
    Author: Phyllis Davis, executive director, Amelia Island Museum of History
    Start: Welcome Center and Shrimp Museum

    Overview

    The quaint shops and restaurants of historic downtown Amelia Island belie the rough and tumble beginnings of the city. As you quickly learn during this compact walking tour, the city’s location near Georgia made it an ideal location for the shipping of contraband and slaves, turning it into a haven for pirates, smugglers, outlaws and assorted colorful characters.

    But there was plenty of history before the first European settlers, with Timucuan Indians engaged in extensive sea trading.

    It is the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in the United States.

    Highlights

    Start on the waterfront near the Visitor Center and Shrimp Museum and look out over the Amelia and St. Mary’s rivers, close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine what it must have been like to have been a Timucuan Indian from 1100 AD to the 1500s, when the first Europeans arrived in this area.

    The large anchor outside the Shrimp Museum is another reminder of the pull the sea has on this town, from pirates to shrimpers, who established the modern shrimping industry in the U.S.

    The Historic Train Depot., built in 1899 as the east coast terminus of the first railway to connect  Florida’s east and west coasts, it is now home to the Florida Museum of Transportation and History.

    The Palace Saloon, the oldest bar in Florida, survived Prohibition, hurricanes and a deadly fire in 1999.

    The Post Office, built in the Italian Revival style in 1911, it was featured in the movie “Lonely Hearts.”

    The Florida House Inn, built by the Florida Railroad as a boarding house in 1857, is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in the state.

    Notable Characters

    Colonel Samuel Elbert of the Continental Army landed on the northern end of the island in a failed attempt to wrest the city from British rule.

    French pirate and privateer Luis Aury, who in 1817 briefly annexed the town to the Republic of Mexico and allowed smuggling and piracy to flourish.

    Cuban freedom poet and freedom fighter Jose Marti, stayed at the Florida House in the fall in 1894 while plotting the Cuban War of Independence in what is now known as the Fernandina Plan.

    Fun fact

    Fernandina Beach is the only municipality in the country that has flown eight different national flags, some only briefly: France, Spain, Great Britain, Spain (again), the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America and the United States.

    Things to do

    Learn more about Fernandina’s colorful past at the Amelia Island Museum of History.

    There are plenty of places to eat and drink in downtown Fernandina, including 29 South, a casual bistro in a 1919 Victorian house.

    Don’t leave without stopping at the Palace Saloon, the oldest bar in Florida once favored by the Carnegies, Rockefellers and other socialites.

    SPONSORS & PARTNERS